The Daily Universe: An Obituary

I was seriously (seriously) bummed to read today that The Daily Universe is discontinuing its daily print edition, moving to a weekly print format (“The Weekly Universe”?) and increasing the emphasis on its digital component.

I’m sure this makes total sense, given the current media landscape that BYU’s journalism students are graduating into. Traditional print skills like copyfitting and page design/layout aren’t as crucial as they once were—certainly not as crucial as search-optimization and multimedia-reporting skills. A friend of mine in the Comms department at BYU told me the change was necessary because of the resources involved in “feeding the beast” and keeping a daily print edition on schedule. I get it.

Here at BCC, we like to poke fun at The Daily Universe with features like Police Beat Roundtable. But all jokes aside, several of the BCC permas got their first taste of ink-stained wretchedness while working for The Universe, and I’ve seen a couple of good backlist discussions today about the value of our experiences there.

In fact, of the various newsrooms I’ve worked in at daily newspapers and national magazines, The Daily Universe’s was by far the most efficient and well run. I worked there as a reporter and editor back when it was still located in The Wilk, and it was a well-oiled, well-inked machine with over 100 students involved. I’ve come to realize that the energy in that newsroom isn’t easy to replicate in the professional world, and it originated from two sources:

  1. Nightly print deadlines. The entire newsroom pulsed to the rhythm of our print cycle;
  2. The fresh taste of exposure. All we had to do was take the elevator down to the CougarEat to see our work being read and talked about. This was a first for most of us, and it was thrilling. Our stories were mentioned in class. Memes would spread virally across campus before anyone knew what viral memes were.

My guess is that it will be difficult, if not impossible, to replicate those conditions with a digital version of The DU. In the CougarEat, a physical newspaper competes mainly with textbooks and text messages for attention, and The DU will often win that battle. But once you’ve asked a reader to go online to access your content, they have the entire world of the Internet available to them, and a student paper will have trouble competing against, say, YouTube, CNN, and BCC.

I hope students continue to read The DU in the new format, and I hope it continues to play a role as a cultural hub. I know that the paper is susceptible to criticism for being a school-run publication, with layers of approvals and censorship, but that wasn’t actually my experience; we had about as much editorial freedom as I’ve had anywhere else, and many more available resources. When my friend Lauren Masters and I wanted to develop a cheeky supplement called The Bubble to poke fun at BYU culture, we got nothing but encouragement and material support from our faculty advisors. At the same time, we were given plenty of latitude to cover anti-war protests however we liked. Helen Thomas came to campus as a guest speaker, and was warmly received by the journalism department, even as students booed and walked out of her forum speech at the Marriott Center.

The DU serves as a reflection of mainstream conservative BYU culture, to be sure, but we also tried to challenge our readers and capture the variety of ideas swirling around campus.

But even more important than The DU’s role as a cultural hub is its role as a training ground for future bloggers, reporters, editors, publicists, and advertisers. The Universe imparts a visible skill to its trainees, one that I believe can have a real impact on public perceptions of the church. It’s good to have Mormons working in the media, and contributing their voices and values in editorial board meetings across the country. That has happened largely because BYU has supplied a steady stream of interns to Newsweek, TV news outlets, national newspapers, PR firms, and ad agencies. BYU has had remarkable success getting its journalism students placed in high-profile internships.

In large part, this success should be attributed to The DU. Overall, I found myself to be better prepared to enter the job market than the interns and entry-level reporters I was competing against in New York City. And I found the same to be true of interns I later hired from BYU versus other schools (including grad schools).

I hope that high level of training continues at BYU, whether it’s at The DU or the newly relaunched Student Review. And, like plenty of other nostalgic old farts, I pity the next generation of journalists with their ink-free fingers.

Comments

  1. Kevin Barney says:

    I really appreciate this.

    When I was at the Y, I read the DU religiously, with two subsequent effects:

    On my mission, I would actually dream about being able to read the DU again.

    And in law school, I actually subscribed for several months. They would come by mail, usually three at a time. I can’t imagine that was a very common thing to do.

  2. “A friend of mine in the Comms department at BYU told me the change was necessary because of the resources involved in ‘feeding the beast’ and keeping a daily print edition on schedule. I get it.”

    I don’t get it. Somehow it was possible to do for decades, but now it’s beyond the capacity of those involved. I think of this every month when my decimated copy of Physics Today comes. Similar to the Daily Universe, it comes automatically to all members of the American Physical Society, so the problem shouldn’t be the same that standard newspapers face to get readers to pay for printed content they can pull up free online.

  3. Mark Brown says:

    “…the change was necessary because of the resources involved in “feeding the beast” and keeping a daily print edition on schedule.”

    I don’t buy it. This is obviously a case of the DU losing the competition battle with Student Review. Either that, or Bain Capital has bought the DU and is selling it off piecemeal overseas.

  4. I used to read Eric Snider’s column in the DU. After than I never picked it up much. I do however read Physics Today whenever I have to go to the dean’s office. Perhaps the DU is a casualty of belt-tightening by the Church. Expenses outside the US have increased and the continuing effects of recession mean a decrease in purse size. Was the DU becoming an irritant?

  5. I took “feeding the beast” to mean they were using too much energy and resources to maintain a project that has decreasing relevance to the students’ actual professional prospects.

    WVS, Snide Remarks was one of the best things about my freshman year.

  6. Leigh Dethman says:

    I proposed a moment of silence in my client meeting today. Sad to see the Daily go.

  7. This is classic BCC: Complain about something non-stop until it’s gone, and then shed a tear for its passing. If the prophet announced temple sealings for all gay couples tomorrow, this site would overflow with passionate defenses of the noble lost cause that was Prop 8.

  8. Steve Evans says:

    Dan, I can’t wait to shed a tear for when you’re gone.

  9. Maybe moving to a weekly schedule will trim some of the fluffy stories out. Once I saw a feature on the front page titled: Cougarette Works Harder. And that was about all there was to it. One priceless quote came from the blessed girl’s admiring male friend: “She’s just about the cutest girl ever!” I know my night working custodial at the RB was enriched for having read that.

  10. Nicky, I bet that issue flew off the racks!

  11. Colleen Thomas says:

    I agree it’s about preparing students for the real world. I’ve worked in newsrooms for 25 years, and, if they’re hiring at all, newspapers are looking first for graduates with online skills. I got my start at the DU, and I give it credit for such a bold move — even if BYU students will soon need an app to find out who’s “appalled.”

  12. At last the seeds of destruction I sowed have come to fruition. Vengeance is mine!

  13. Do these changes mean Richard Burwash is coming soon to a student newspaper near you?

  14. This is terrible news! I get a copy of the DU every single day. How am I going to get my NY Times crossword puzzle fix? Doing the puzzle online is not the same.

  15. Mommie Dearest says:

    Um, I hereby nominate #12 for BCOW

  16. Lauren M Hastings says:

    Thanks for the shout-out, Kyle. “The Bubble” was so much fun to create, and looking back, I’m really surprised Kaylene and Rob were game. It had the potential to go terribly awry. The Daily Universe was the best thing I did at BYU. I’m not in the business anymore and moving to Silicon Valley has convinced me that print is dead, but the skills I learned as a reporter and then as an editor managing a team in charge of a daily physical product were invaluable. If the online version can give students the same experience, awesome. But as you said, there’s nothing as satisfying as seeing your name in print in papers all across campus. As a side note, I miss the DU weekly bowling sessions.

  17. Doug LeDuc says:

    I’m guessing that putting it out on a daily basis required students to spend too much time with the print version when they needed to be spending much more time than they probably were with the web version. I hope they’ve found a good way of blending the broadcast and print programs, because there was a time when there were not a lot of students doing both. I ended up learning the broadcast end of it in grad school and you really need to know both these days.

  18. Cousin Sean says:

    One of the best acts of charity done at BYU was leaving an intact DU on the backpack shelf in a bathroom stall after you left. Maybe now people will leave behind iPads and Kindle Fires with the digital weekly Daily Universe open already? I would REALLY appreciate that kind of charity. And Kyle, I had no idea you were behind The Bubble. I think you got an unfair share of the awesomeness-genes.

  19. Peter LLC says:

    Interesting decision. Even in this day and age of the ubiquitous smartphone, two newspapers in my neck of the woods are waging a pitched battle over the “Cougar Eat” market, i.e., people sitting around with little to do, by giving away print copies to commuters. They’ve been at for five years now and have become leading populist opinion makers.

  20. it's a series of tubes says:

    Eric Snider commenting on BCC? It’s a whole new conglomeration of awesomeness!

    Thanks, Eric, for your column which made my time at the Y much more enjoyable. Loved the most recent “Fairy Tales for our Partisan Times”, BTW.

  21. Steve Evans says:

    Seconded #12 for BCotW, a high point in a week of high points.

  22. Chris Gordon says:

    A Snide comment! From nowhere! Oh day of days!

  23. StillConfused says:

    Will this impact the Police Beat reviews here? That is all I really care about

  24. Are Tubes and Chris Gordon aware of Snider’s turn on PBR a couple years ago?

  25. it's a series of tubes says:

    I am now. Will review the archives ASAP.

  26. I shared this comment on FB: There was a special Monday issue (92?, 93?) that talked about Democrats on campus. There was a cartoon that showed a student sitting in a closet with one bare light bulb, his hands around his knees, whimpering, “Mom/Dad, it’s time for me to come out of the closet. I’m a Democrat.”

    DU always kept it classy.

  27. Eveningsun says:

    Memes would spread virally across campus before anyone knew what viral memes were.

    Oh, we knew what they were. It’s just that back then we called them “rumors.” But I feel your pain about the BU, remembering as I do my own college newspaper days (not at BYU), right down to the Compugraphic typesetter, the X-acto knives, the waxer, the light tables…. The days of PMTs, not PDFs. When cut and paste really involved cutting and pasting. When editors were editors, by gum. Then, in my junior year I believe, we got one of those newfangled Macintosh thingies and there was no looking back. Darn you to heck, Progress!

  28. Velikiye Kniaz says:

    Evening Sun; Thank you very much for your mention of the Compugraphic typesetter. I spent sometime with Compugraphic in Burlington, Massachusetts, as a type designer and during my hiatus managed to baptize my supervisor. I knew that we actually did sell those contraptions, but this is the first I’ve heard of any university buying one. You are correct, the “newfangled thingies” did indeed deliver a swift coup de grace to Compugraphic and it disappeared from the face of the land. Thanks again for the reminiscence! End of minor threadjack…

  29. Most of the students booed Helen Thomas? What offense was she guilty of committing?

  30. She was guilty of relating her experiences with the Bush administration, and the run up to war (this was in 2003).

  31. And “most” didn’t boo her. But a few booed, a few walked out…enough of them for it to be really tacky.

  32. Doug LeDuc says:

    I don’t know when she was at BYU, but four or five months after she was fired for bashing Jews, Helen Thomas started bashing all U.S. media for participating in a vast conspiracy to deceive the public about Middle East issues because all U.S. news outlets of any significance supposedly were owned, controlled or heavily influenced by Jews. She was starting to sound a lot like Joseph Goebbels in some of her public statements and the Society of Professional Journalists decided to retire the Helen Thomas Award for Lifetime Achievement. She was just expressing some pretty biased (bigoted?) sentiments she has held for a long time. With all of the pro-Israel students out at BYU it was bold to let her speak there, but i’m sure other speakers have been provided plenty of opportunity to present a pro-Israel viewpoint.

  33. Doug, I’m not sure how early her anti-Israel sentiments became known…we didn’t know anything about that back in 2003. She was booed for criticizing the administration and questioning the rationale for going to war.

  34. I have fond memories of working as a reporter as a junior and as news editor my senior year. I was there in the aftermath of the multiple-part Gays on Campus series that lead to the reassignment of the managing editor. During the summer between the two, I interned at a newspaper in Texas. The DU was much more advanced technologically.

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